A Travellerspoint blog

Catching up on the summer travels

Wow, it is October.

Where did the last 4 months go? From a travel perspective the summer took me to Denver (CFA Conference), Red Deer (horse show), Montreal & Sorel, Quebec (horse show), Montreal and Montana (wedding and horse show), Toronto (work) and capped off with a fantastic weekend in New York.

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Every time I go to NYC I manage to find new and interesting activities. This past trip included a visit to the The Metropolitan Museum of Art ("The Met"), which houses 26,000 Egyptian artifacts (one of the largest collections outside of Egypt). It was the first time Ger and I have seen Egyptian artifacts since being in Egypt and it highlighted two things, first, a greater understanding and appreciation for museums and how the artifacts end up in the USA and second, how much of the history surrounding them we have already forgotten! That said, we remembered enough to appreciate what we were seeing far more than we did prior to being in Egypt. I also had the pleasure of discovering "speakeasys". Ger had been to them before but I did not even know they existed. A speakeasy is a bar (mostly high end cocktails now) that derive their name from the prohibition era when these establishments went underground (literally) and became secrets. We went to two, one under the Chelsea Market and one that required entering a petite hot dog restaurant (is a place that serves hot dogs restaurants?) and a phone booth to access. It was fabulous and fun. We took in a Broadway Show, "Book of Mormon", hysterical but certainly not for everyone and managed to get tickets to Fleetwood Mac's reunion concert at Madison Square Garden. Overall another fantastic weekend in one of my favorite US cities to visit.

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As we roll into the fall and start to prepare for winter I made the final payment on our next journey and ignited the butterflies. Ger and I are taking my parents to South Africa for Christmas this year. As usual I will blog our journey as a placeholder for the memories (it is evident I forget a lot quickly might have something to do with my love for red wine). We depart Canada on December 12 and head to London for a couple days before boarding for a rather long (11 hour) flight to Cape Town. The itinerary includes a week or so in Cape Town and area (including wine country, Franschhoek) before we head north to Livingstone and Victoria Falls (Zambia). We have a week or so for some safari time (both SA and Namibia) before departing via Johannesburg, London and home.

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We are very much looking forward to this journey and it has required very little prep for us as we have all our shots and safari gear from our last trip to Africa. My parents on the other hand have been getting poked in the arm for the last 6 months or so since some of the Hep A & B take awhile for full coverage.

So until next time (which should be sometime in early December),
G^2

Posted by imalazyj 09:08 Archived in Canada

Farewell China

sunny 26 °C

Well dinner last night was an adventure unto itself. We had reservations at Shintori one of the new hot spot sushi restaurants in Shanghai. It was not in our neighbourhood so off we went in a cab. Driving here is similar to other large non-North American cities we have traveled to. Painted lanes and lights are merely a suggestion and horns are a necessity. Fortunately, there is so much traffic you can't go fast enough to be killed but I am always shocked there are not more dents in the cars.

We got dumped off in a very busy area with lots of restaurants and bars. At this point we had no idea where exactly we are (there seems to be less English here than in Beijing on the signs) after a minor meltdown on my part and then through a stroke of luck we managed to find the unmarked, grey warehouse that houses this amazing eatery. A bottle of wine accompanied with a great meal (sashimi on dry ice makes for a very cool effect) was a great farewell to the Orient.
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Getting home was much easier (staying at a landmark hotel certainly helps) and we wandered the Bund for a bit with the masses to capture some photos of the amazing lights (I can't fathom the power bill these buildings must incur). One last stop for a couple Cosmos at the legendary jazz club in the Peace Hotel capped off the evening.
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This morning our final adventure was to the Oriental Pearl Tower via the "Sightseeing Tunnel of the Bund". Which is essentially a pedestrian tram that crosses underneath the river with a snazzy lightshow. Very odd. Effective means of transport because traffic makes cabs here crazy (clearly no cost benefit analysis though because the tram cars and lights don't add much value and most have cost a fortune).
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The Tower is one of 3 high buildings (it is 1,500 ft high with an observation deck at 1,400 ft) you can go up to get a bird's eye view of the city. We were there early to beat the crowds as it turns out this weekend is the Dragon Boat Festival in China thus Monday is a holiday (even the guide books say don't travel in China on a Chinese Holiday). It was really fascinating to see what 4,000 20 story buildings looks like from above and provided a good perspective on the immense size of these cities with 20 mm + people. The glass floor observation area was not a fan favourite with Ger (he wouldn't even step on it) and even as silly as it seemed I had issues walking on the floor myself.
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We are back in the hotel to enjoy the final few moments of peace (and Ger went for a quick swim) before venturing out to make the final trek to the airport.

China is very much a country of contrasts for us. A pleasant surprise at how easy it is to travel through, how affordable it is and how clean it is. Relative to other places we have been even the rural and poorer areas of China are well maintained. It is hard to comprehend the massive change this country has undergone in the last decade. Old versus new is everywhere, sophisticated technology and engineering marvels (bridges, highways, dams are all state of the art (again I am not sure the Chinese Government does the same cost/benefit analysis we do at home)) and yet the most primitive farming techniques (so ironic since they are such a large producer of agricultural goods). They have more government (government builds everything here including condos) but less regulations/by-laws than North America (no bike helmet rules, no smoking rules, no pedestrian rules).

A big flux we noticed is the family unit is changing, historically families lived as one unit, grandparents, parents, kids. No longer do the kids want to live with their parents, a very significant change for this culture. And the younger generations want more Western Culture, music, restaurants, bars and especially clothes. They love labels and designer anything (even if the knock-offs are actually made in China).

It was really a fantastic trip we feel like we saw a lot of China (and I got to run a race on The Great Wall to celebrate the 11th anniversary of my 29th birthday!) The weather was fantastic and we are grateful for the health and opportunity to experience it. I like the Chinese consistent wishes for happiness, longevity and prosperity. While they seem pushy and loud they also seem really happy (I also get why we see some many Chinese everywhere in the world there is just a lot of them. With a population of 1.4 B and an estimated the world population of 7 B (give or take a few million) China makes up 20% of the World's people add India to China's population and you get 40%.)

Now it's home to start riding (thanks Austin for keeping my donkey going for me) as horse show season is here (yay!). And collect my dogs from Doggie Disneyland (thanks Mom & Dad for keeping them for us).

Until next time,
G^2

Posted by imalazyj 20:20 Archived in China

New China, Shanghai

sunny 29 °C

Shanghai, the new China. It is said there are 3 Chinas, X'ian (terracotta warriors) the ancient China, Beijing, the present China and Shanghai, the new China. Locals call it the New York of the East. The lights and people make it more like the Times Square of the East (although to conserve energy now the lights must be off by 11pm). The West Bank (the famous Chinese TV Tower or Oriental Pearl Tower) looks very similar to Dubai but the rest of Shanghai still looks very much like China. There are 4,000 buildings in Shanghai over 20 floors high, that means in order to be impressive the building now has to be very, very big. There is actually a restriction now on new construction because unlike NYC that is built on rock this land is soft and sinking from the weight.
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The ultimate consumer it seems this population is, they love to shop and shop for Westerner things. The knock-offs here make Canal Street in NYC laughable.

We arrived without incident last night and check into the Peace Hotel. Spoiled, yes. The hotel is among Shanghai's most treasured buildings. Two buildings make up the Peace Hotel, one built in 1906 being the oldest building on the Bund (the area of Shanghai we are staying). The other building, the Cathy Hotel, built in 1929 was know as the playroom for its owner, Victor Sassoon, a wealthy landowner who invested in the opium trade. The hotel is magnificent and a great end to our Chinese journey.
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We checked in and ventured out for a tour of the Bund and find something to eat, although sushi was the plan we made a reservation for Friday night so we were game for anything. The Bund is on the bank of Shanghai's Huangpu River, and is lined with massive architecture gems dating back to the 20's (our hotel included).

We wandered up Nanjing Dong, a pedestrian shopping mall, packed with people (packed, you have to experience it to understand). We stumbled upon some food and a bottle of wine and were meandering back (at 10pm) and we found a hair salon. Open. Ger wanted his hair buzzed, I am always game for a wash and dry so in we went. Turns out the 5 gay Chinese men in the salon found Ger "very big" "them skinny" and quite attractive. Somehow my wash ended up with a hair treatment (just one even though they tried desperately to get me to do two) and Ger ended up with some sort of scalp massage/cleaning (he got snookered for two bottles of the product) and a shoulder massage (one of the young men had just wanted to touch). All harmless at the end, Ger's scalp is very clean and my hair actually is surprisingly soft (thank god it didn't turn green or fall out). We were warned about sleazy massage parlours and shady Karaoke bars but no one mentioned hair salons.

Today started at around 9 with a stop at the Silk Factory (similar to the water pearl factory, and tea factory and while touristy, they assure quality and you learn a bunch of useless knowledge). For example did you know a single silk worm produces one silk thread that is 1.6 km long (and no Dad that isn't a typo like I made in the last entry where I had pounds instead of tonnes). It was actually interesting to see the life cycle of the worm (short and productive) they are cultivated now and eat only the Mulberry tree leaf (one worm will eat 60 leaves, hungry little creatures).
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From the Silk Factory we traveled west to Zhouzhang, a water township located in Kunshan City (and while not far from Shanghai it took almost 2 hours to get there. The traffic in this country is awful. I will never complain about Bow Trail again.) It is always fascinating to leave the city and drive to more rural areas. In China, you see massive condo complexes decorated with everyone's laundry drying. Turns out the Chinese like their clothes air dried and fresh (might have worked historically but the air here is not what one would call fresh). A typical small condo is 500-700 sq. feet, a medium around 1,000 and the wealthy are similar to everywhere in the world and there is no limit.
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It is wheat harvest here and you drive by small plots of wheat being hand cultivated by farmers. They use any open space to dry the wheat including roadways and parking lots. It is so strange to see a country so sophisticated and yet the production of food, which is so vital so elementary.

Shanghai has numerous waterways (rivers, canals and a couple very large lakes) including a canal hand dug from Beijing (The Grand Canal completed in 600 A.D.), local rumour has it the woman in the south where beautiful and he wanted to establish his concubine with them. It nows serves as a major shipping route.
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We had our very last Chinese smorgasbord in Shouzhang after sailing the quaint canals (Chinese Venice) before returning to Shanghai. We grabbed our walking shoes and spent the afternoon walking the Bund and the Old Town District. The area once surrounded by a wall now encompasses thousands (no exaggeration) of shops, selling well, junk. We also popped into Yu Garden, a Classical Chinese garden, commissioned by a Ming Dynasty official in 1559 and built over 19 years. It was a lovely piece of quietness in a bustling area of Shanghai.

The final stop on our meandering was to rub the balls (for good fortune of course) of the Bund Bull. Sculpted by the same gentleman, Arturo Di Modica, who also sculpted the Charging Bull (Wall Street). It is said the Bund Bull is the same size and weight as Wall Street's but Ger thinks the Chinese would have made theirs just a wee bit larger.
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We are now reflecting on our day before heading out for our much anticipated sushi extravaganza. Tomorrow morning, weather dependent we will finish our Chinese journey before heading to the airport and heading back to reality.

Until next time,
G^2

Posted by imalazyj 03:58 Archived in China

Happy Birthday Ger from China

overcast 30 °C

First, Happy Birthday Gerry, he got to celebrate on a Yangtze River Cruise!

Cruising the river is a civilized way to see the country side. Rivers are always lined with cities and interesting spots as the water is and always has been an efficient way to travel and move goods. The Yangtze River still is a major transportation route and we have witnessed thousands of tonnes of coal enroute to generate power. There is no doubt this country needs a cleaner source of energy and while the details of the China/Russia nat gas deal have been scant here it does sound like it has been in the works for awhile and a good deal for both countries (who knows if it lasts).
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The cruise has been a nice break from Bootcamp and a chance to watch life on the river as it is today - in flux, with new cities springing up and old cities left submerged or evacuated.

We opted out of the morning 'optional tour' to catch up on some rest but joined the masses in the afternoon for the tour of the three "lessor gorges" and then the "mini gorges". Our cruise ship had already sailed through two of the three bigger gorges. The gorges occupy 120 km of the Yangtze River and are quite beautiful. Similar to Tiger Leaping Gorge, they are no Grand Canyon but picturesque and lovely. Each of the lessor and mini gorge cruises required a smaller and smaller boat. A pleasant way to spend the afternoon.
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The evening consisted of the Captain's Dinner and much to both mine and Ger's surprise a birthday cake for him (I promised him I wouldn't say anything but they had our passports so they figured it out on their own). I was so unprepared I didn't have a camera to capture a picture of the cake which was topped with cherry tomatoes (there is some debate whether it was on purpose or as an improvisation for strawberries, the Chinese consider tomatoes a desert fruit).

We sailed through the Three Gorges Locks during the night (Ger woke me up about midnight to witness it and for those who know me he took his life into his own hands, I do not wake politely!) It was worth dragging my sorry ass to the top deck to watch the lock close and water drain (rather quickly). There are 5 locks on the Yangtze, each drops (or adds depending what direction you are going) 22 m of water as there is 110 m between the upper Yangtze and lower. The locks are part of the Three Georges Dam.
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The Three Gorges Dam is a massive "clean" energy source for China. It is also cited as a project to control flooding and provide safer navigation for shipping. It set many world records including manpower utilized, volume of building materials (10 mm tonnes of cement) and is the world's largest power station with a nameplate of 22,500 MGW. Much to my surprise the dam was finally completed and fully functional in July 2012 when the last of the turbines in the underground plant began production (like an oilsands project it was built in stages with the first stage complete in 2009). It houses 32 main turbines each capable of 700 MW. A great economic and engineering feat it did not come without a price ($26B US dollars) as the dam increased the size of the river significantly and flooded many archaeological and cultural sites, displaced 1.3 m people and is causing significant ecological changes (landslides).
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The project has been a vision since 1919 and construction began in December 1994. The ship locks are intended to increase river shipping from 10 mm to 100 mm tonnes annually (shift lift is scheduled to be completed this year (capable of lifting ships up to 3,000 tonnes) the locks have been operational and being completed in stages as well). Ships with much deeper draft will be able to navigate 2,400 km from Shanghai to Chongqing.

This morning consisted of an off the boat tour of the massive project. The dam is 2.4 km in length and an impressive sight. The locks are much more significant and impressive than the one we sailed through on the Nile. There is significant humidity and mist in the air, our guide said due to the ecological change from adding so much water to the area. (The Upper Yangtze now reaches up to 175 m of depth, prior to the dam is was closer to 60 m.)

We are now checked in for our final inter-country flight (always a little stressful as Ger and I about 2 kilos each over the 20 kilo limit). This afternoon we head to Shanghai our last stop in China. Sushi is on the list for dinner tonight and Ger wants to get his hair buzzed (I have no idea how that is going to go). We are both looking forward to Shanghai and are anticipating something like Dubai with fantastic new skyscrapers and a modern feel.

Until next time,
G^2

Posted by imalazyj 08:37 Archived in China

Cruising China

overcast 24 °C

Yangzi, Yangtze, Yangtse I suck at English and spelling as it is and the Chinese do not help my cause. Nothing here is spelt the same way twice. I am going with Yangtze as I like the way it looks. Either way, we flew to Chongquing (on Tuesday) to pick up the start of our cruise. We didn't look much into Chongquing as we thought we were getting right on the boat. Turns out we had an afternoon to kill and our guide and driver were eager to show us their city.

30 mm people live in Chongquing. That is basically Canada in a city. One city. And you know what, the traffic is better than Beijing. Chongquing is in the mountains (rolling green hills actually) of China. Hot and humid (imagine 45 degrees and humidity in the summer) it was the first place we have been in China where WWII was really a focal point. During the war the capital of China was moved to Chongquing as it is surrounded by rivers (natural moats) and mountains. Most of the historical part of the city was bombed by the Japanese. This part of Chinese history requires more work on my part but this is the first time I realized the Japanese occupied major parts of China (Beijing included) and perhaps if Pearl Harbour hadn't happened this area might still be Japanese.

We learned Chongquing is one of four direct controlled municipalities in China. Thus, is treated as a province, similar to Beijing there are only two levels of government. Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin are the other three. So now we have direct controlled municipalities, autonomous regions and provinces. Oh and Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Chongquing turned out to be a charming place to spend the afternoon. We started with lunch and the traditional Chongquing Hot Pot. They bring a large pot with broth and oil (one side spicy one side not) and place it on a burner in the middle of the table. Diners add the ingredients also placed on your table (fish, beef, pork balls, seaweed, rice noodles and a smattering of other unidentifiable veggies) once cooked you pluck them out with your chopsticks and dunk them in a sauce you have assembled from a line of other ingredients (peanuts, soya sauce, chilli sauce, sesame oil etc). It was pretty entertaining watching us white people try this and actually pretty damn tasty (we steered clear of the exotic meats).
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We visited the central square (very important in Chinese culture people actually use their parks, play cards, music, mahjong, spinner, dance (looks like a flash mob) it has been pretty cool to witness) and we visited the market. Meat market was similar to the last one we saw and I won't lie, hard to stomach as a Canadian, dogs wander around licking the very sticky floor and it smells, well like a meat market. They eat everything of the animal (1.4 B people to fed they have no choice, They also believe certain parts of the animal are good for you, pigs feet for example help your skin and wrinkles). The vegetables they grow here make ones head spin. So much variety and they are mutants! The radishes are the size of a small squash, many different kinds of cabbage and squash. And again they eat the whole plant (roots and all) and each plant is good for something wether it be healing an alignment or promoting healthy living.
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From the market we headed to the Old Town, which is pretty much a handful of buildings after the war and cultural revolution (wow did they lose a lot during those years). We had the cutest and funnest guide, her english was amazing, most of our guides spent 4 years in University learning English and while I am sure their written and reading comprehension exceeds mine spoken English varies greatly among them (hard to practice speaking English with someone who is also learning English).

I fell in love with the story of the Pixiu Dragon in Chongquin, the constipated dragon. He has his mouth open but no hole out the other end, he is found at the door of Casinos in Macau. He takes your money and doesn't let it go. I may have been snookered by our friendly Chinese guide but I am coming home with 'a pair of 80 year old Pixiu jade dragons, complete with official papers (aka a red book with Chinese writing that I can not read)'. Authentic, I have no idea but I like them and the story (they will sit on the front table of the house so guests be warned, they take your money and don't give it back).

The Banyan Tree, or Birthday Tree, is the official tree of Chongquin, it is the birthday tree because regardless of season the Banyan Tree sheds its leaves the time it was planted. It marches to the beat of its own drum. I instantly liked it.

Chongquin was truly the city of contrast, standing in a building from the Ming Dynasty you could look up and see a "Mao" building (after the last cultural revolution) and then see the Chinese National Bird, the crane. Seriously, they joke about it but it is true, 8% growth for a decade you can see it. Enormous condo complexes, some almost done, some half done, Ger and I can't decide if this is the next superpower or fiscal crisis.
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We had to bus to our boat which was docked in Fengdu, as the water is low this time of year. Another fascinating journey down the super interstate which because it is mountainous is either a bridge or tunnel (I am not kidding the Chinese road engineers are genius they do not go over or down anything).

We boarded our boat late (8pm but our Chongquin guide warned us so Ger and I were stocked with snacks and wine) and there is about 20 "foreign tourists" (aka round eyes) amongst 200 Chinese. The Boat is clean and nice, the "fitness facilities" are sparse (the only treadmill is broken) but they do have a hair saloon where Princess got her hair washed and blow dried (thanks Karen!).

First stop today was a tour of the ghost city of Fendgu (small cities along the river were relocated for the dam and the subsequent flooding). After Fendgu we sailed the river (I slept most of it, Greenall Bootcamp catches up with you) until Shi Boa Zhai (Stone Treasure Fortress). Turns out Ger and I were the only two of the 20 to participate in the optional tour so we had a private tour of this odd temple on a rock.
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The Chinese are a fun culture (once I got over that their customs are not North American), they wish for three things, happiness, longevity and good fortune. They truly are happy, pushy (by our standards) but quite jovial. I have embraced the pushy (fits my nature) yesterday as we debarked from the plane and I stepped aggressively (by Canadian standards) in the aisle, cutting the little lady off behind me and felt a pang of rudeness, until the little man in front of me pulled down the overhead baggage and couldn't reach his bag so I (all of 5"5) reached up and grabbed it for him. I got 3 unsolicited hugs from people who just tried to run me over (including the little lady I cut off). That's why we travel isn't it? Odd and different behaviour.

Dinner (buffet but surprisingly good since we are in a special 'round eye' dining room) and a couple (that is not a typo Aussiew wine is good on the boat and I am on vacation after all) bottles of wine and I am ready for bed again. Tomorrow we start to see the three gorges and I suspect the next blog will be about the gorges and the dam (another engineering marvel).

Until next time,
G^2

Posted by imalazyj 17:48 Archived in China

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